It doesn't matter whether you're quitting or have been laid off: If you're thinking of getting in one last parting shot, do remember that the world is always much smaller than you might want it to be. You never know who's going to be screening your resume in another year or two -- so unless you're planning to change your industry and time zone (and maybe even your name), it's best to be brief, upbeat and respectful of your peers.
Include your forwarding information to keep doors open for future networking and friendship. If it comes naturally to you, add a bit of tasteful humor. Then hit send, and exit gracefully, stage left.
If you're still not sure about what not to do -- or just need a bit of humor in your day -- take a look at these truly terrible exit letter excerpts (click on the links to see the full versions in all their wince-inducing glory).
Whole Foods Market In the bitter missive picked up by Gawker over the weekend, a former employee tries to pull back the Oz curtain on Whole Foods to expose it as a "faux hippy Wal-Mart." Many accusations are made about the company not living up to its name in terms of recycling or conserving resources. But he undermines his own position by complaining about getting in trouble for being late -- and calling out co-workers for perceived faults (including their choice of music).
Got more meaningful concerns about your soon-to-be former company's corporate practices? Share them during your exit interview with HR.
In 2007, a letter apparently from a gleefully departing JP Morgan worker quickly made its rounds around the finance world. He starts out with this: "For nearly as long as I've worked here, I've hoped that I might one day leave this company" -- and among his more choice quotes are this one: "I have been fortunate enough to work with some absolutely interchangeable supervisors on a wide variety of seemingly identical projects â€" an invaluable lesson in overcoming daily tedium in overcoming daily tedium in overcoming daily tedium."
My response: If he was so unhappy, why did he stay for seven years?
Hunters Point Naval Shipyard
Sometimes the medium really is the message -- as with a San Francisco employee who wrote his resignation letter in frosting atop a piece of sheet cake. The message itself is benign -- "I am proud to have been part of such an outstanding team" -- and it may have been meant as a sweet gesture, but I bet it left a bit of a bitter taste in the boss's mouth. After all, one of the keys to an effective letter is to treat your former employers with respect. Later, they just might do the same for you. (At least he does say he submitted a paper copy as well.)
Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz said goodbye using Twitter, saying: "Financial crisis/Stalled too many customers/CEO no more." In his very executive position and industry, this probably wasn't too much of an issue. But I wouldn't recommend it for most people. I have enough trouble conveying a coherent thought on Twitter, let alone an elegant goodbye message.